The Science Magazine article goes on to catalog benefits that can be seen in brain scans: fMRI images of the pre-frontal cortex, increased concentrations of the neurotransmitter GABA, and "greater functional connectivity between the caudate nucleus and a number of cortical regions responsible for effective cognitive function." Both performance and brain measurements were more improved by yoga than by an equivalent exercise dose walking, and were more improved by meditation than the same time spent sleeping.
Brain researchers have detected improvements in cognition and emotional well-being associated with meditation and yoga, as well as differences in how meditation and prayer affect the brains of those who believe in God and those who do not.
At a 28 September Neuroscience & Society event cosponsored by AAAS and the Dana Foundation, neuroscientist Sara Lazar said that not only were the brain images in a study of people who meditated different from those who did not, other research showed that certain changes in performance such as improved scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) occurred in controlled experiments involving mindfulness training.
"This suggests neuroplasticity to me," said Lazar, associate researcher in the psychiatry department at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor in psychology at Harvard Medical School.
The fact is that electronic measurements of moods and brain function are still in quite a crude state. But they are given prominence because they are regarded as hard science. A million people can report "yoga makes me feel great, and I get more done all day." But it's not reportable in Science until it can be detected electronically.
These studies are not new. Scientific demonstration of the benefits of yoga has been ongoing for decades. The penetration of yoga into the mainstream of American culture is (IMHO) one of the most positive developments of the last half century, If we find that yoga gives us a capacity to focus, to be pro-active, to enhance our creative thought and to respond to crisis with insight and perspective--do we really need a $100,000 machine to tell us that it's not all in our heads?